China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), which in December 2010 commissioned its first three of nine Ka-31 shipborne airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters into service, is now gearing up to receive its first home-grown Z-8JA shipborne AEW helicopters. The Ka-31s were ordered in 2006 from Russia’s Kumertau Aviation Production Enterprise JSC as part of an order for 18 helicopters, which included nine shipborne Ka-28PL anti-submarine warfare helicopters as well. Earlier, in 1998, the PLAN had ordered its first eight Ka-28PLs. Present plans call for the Ka-31s and Z-8JAs to be deployed on board the PLAN’s two existing Type 052C Luyang 2-class guided-missile destroyers (DDG 170 Lanzhou and DDG 171 Haikou) that are each armed with eight 300km-range YJ-62 (C-602) anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM), on the four additional Type 052C DDGs now under construction, and on the PLAN’s four Type 071 Yuzhao-class landing platform docks (LPD). The Ka-31, which is also capable of providing over-the-horizon targetting cues for ASCMs, comes equipped with an E-801M solid-state early warning radar capable to detecting and tracking up to 20 targets simultaneously at the distance up to 150km (for airborne aircraft) and up to 285km (warships). The Z-8JA helicopter, on the other hand, is a home-grown product, with Jingdezhen-based Changhe Aircraft Industry Group (CAIG) building the helicopter and CETC supplying the X-band KLC-7 AEW radar suite, which can also function as a synthetic aperture radar for maritime surveillance. The Z-8JA, equipped with a two-man glass cockpit and a mission management system manned by a two-man crew, is powered by three WZ-6 engines each rated at 1,512hp (1,128kW), has an internal fuel capacity of 3,900 litres, has a service ceiling of 3.1km, and a mission endurance of four hours.
Meanwhile, the commercial arm of China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF)—China United Airlines—is presently negotiating the procurement of 18 pre-owned Ilyushin IL-76MD transport aircraft from private Russian aircraft owners (there are an estimated 106 IL-76MDs in service with several Russia-based aviation companies), and deliveries are due to begin by this April and be completed by June 2012. The PLAAF has fast-tracked the procurement of these 18 IL-76MDs so that these aircraft are all available for regional emergencies/contingencies that call for either the swift evacuation of Chinese citizens abroad, or evacuation of Chinese infrastructure property from foreign soil. It is believed that the PLAAF is bracing for the breakout of hostilities in the Middle East, especially in Syria or Iran.
It may be recalled that the PLAAF has since 1991 acquired 20 IL-76MDs from Russia (B-4030 through to B-4049) and four IL-76MDs (30071, 30072, 30073, and 30074) from Uzbekistan’s Tashkent Aviation Production Association (TAPO). While the 19 remaining Russia-origin IL-76MDs are presently operational with China United Airlines and are actually operated by the PLAAF’s 13th Air Division based at Wuhan in Hubei Province, and the 34th Air Division based at Nanyuan air base in Beijing, the four TAPO-delivered IL-76MDs were converted between October 1999 and 2006 into airborne early warning and control (AEW & C) platforms, called Kong Jing-2000 (KJ-2000). The first KJ-2000 technology demonstrator (converted from an existing IL-76MD transport owned by China United Airlines) made its maiden flight at the China Flight Test Establishment (CFTE) in Yanliang, Shaanxi Province. Following this, four KJ-2000 AEW & C platforms were acquired and all four are now operated by the PLAAF’s 26th Air Division based in the eastern Zhejiang province near the Taiwan Strait.
In September 2005, China and Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corp had inked an agreement worth US$1.5 billion under which TAPO was to have supplied the PLAAF with 16 IL-76MD transports, with Russia’s Ulyanovsk-based Aviastar-SP supplying the remaining 18 IL-76MDs and four IL-78MKK aerial refuelling tankers. This deal, however, has been frozen since March 2006 due to TAPO’s inability to execute the order. Consequently, Russia took all responsibility for fulfilling the PLAAF’s order, and the first IL-76MD to be built by Aviastar-SP is due for delivery by the end of this year.
In another development, Indonesia will soon ink an agreement with China for procuring C-705 anti-ship cruise missiles. A total of 40 C-705s will be procured for the 20 guided-missile fast-attack craft (FAC-M) now being built by Indonesia’s PT Palindo Marine Industri (PMI), based in Batam, off Singapore. The first such KCR-40 FAC-M--KRI Clurit 641—was launched on April 26, 2011 by Indonesia’s Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro. This FAC-M, which was built with the help of graduates from the Surabaya Institute of Technology, is equipped with a THALES-supplied Sensor Weapon Control (SEWACO) combat management system, a CETC-built target acquisition/engagement radar for the C-705, plus a 30mm cannon and two 12.7mm heavy machine guns. The FAC-M is 44 metres long, 8 metres wide and 3.4 metres high, can develop a maximum speed of 30 Knots. Each KCR-40 FAC-M will house two stern-mounted inclined C-705 launchers. The KRI Clurit was named after a Madurese dagger. Clurit has a form of a question mark believed to reflect the character of Madurese people who will never be satisfied with what they have and their tenacity.—Prasun K Sengupta